SI Vault
Edited by Bruce Newman
November 20, 1978
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November 20, 1978


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Last week the NHL found itself in the midst of a small—but potentially widening—crisis, and for once the trouble had nothing to do with excessive violence on the ice. Over the past several years dozens of NHL players have been breaking out in a mysterious red rash, which was painful enough to hospitalize some players and serious enough to force one to retire from the game. When the rash first appeared, players tended to be stoic about it; they called it the "Gonk" or the "Creeping Crud," and used ointments and steroid treatments in an attempt to make it go away. But in most cases it didn't go away, and now dermatologists from Massachusetts General Hospital have agreed to help one team, the Boston Bruins, try to discover its cause.

The Minnesota North Stars were the first to be hit by the Gonk. Defenseman Tom Reid was stricken so severely that he finally had to retire. "In 1975 I noticed it on my hands," says Reid. "Then my skin cracked wide open all over my body and a yellowish fluid oozed out. I had to quit playing hockey because I couldn't sleep anymore. The liquid would ooze out and stick to the sheets when I slept. When I moved, it would tear my skin off. Finally I had to sleep without any clothes, sitting up in a wooden chair. I just couldn't go on living like that."

Center Jacques Lemaire of Montreal has had to go to the hospital for a few days on more than one occasion because of the rash; Detroit Forward Dennis Polonich recently spent seven days in the hospital; and Minnesota General Manager Lou Nanne has had it. Four Boston Bruins have contracted the rash this season, and Coach Don Cherry has gotten a dose on his right leg. All-Star Defenseman Brad Park had a bad case until he went to the hospital for knee surgery. "When you're not playing," says Park, "it goes away. But now that I'm skating again, it's starting to come back."

There are theories that the rash is caused by the dye used to color the pads and gloves the players wear, or that it is brought on by equipment leather, some of which comes from Afghanistan. It is even thought that the rash may be caused by the ammonia used in making ice. All kinds of skin tests have been conducted, but so far no one has come up with an explanation. The league office, perhaps hoping to insulate itself from the plague, has insisted that the problem is for the individual teams to solve. It may be time for somebody to do something rash.


Once upon a time there was a sleepy little town in Pennsylvania called Mauch Chunk, which is Indian for Bear Mountain. In 1954 the good people of Mauch Chunk voted overwhelmingly to rename their town Jim Thorpe, after the legendary athlete, as a lure for new industry and some fast tourist dollars.

Twenty-four years have passed and nothing much has happened. The tourists and industry stayed away and the town got older and more threadbare. "We were promised all kinds of things—a sporting-goods manufacturing plant, the pro football Hall of Fame, even a research hospital," said the late Jack Huber, a former borough councilman. "All we saw were dollar signs, but all we got was a dead Indian."

The dead Indian, Thorpe, was offered to the town by his widow in exchange for a pledge to build a mausoleum in his memory. As an added inducement, Patricia Thorpe was widely believed to have volunteered her support to persuade the NFL to build its Hall of Fame there. As anyone who has ever been to Canton, Ohio knows, the NFL shrine was never built in Thorpe, and nowadays residents, who have grown surprisingly bitter, make it a point to tell visitors that Jim Thorpe never lived in the town, and, in fact, never even set foot in it. And who can really blame him?


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